Serbia and Kosovo Negotiations: Brussels Isn’t Waiting for Either Delegation

Translated by Sufyan Jan

08/06/2018 (Rana Al-Harbi)

“I will resume dialogue with the Kosovars to try to solve our problems, even though I do not trust them … but we have no other choice,”
these were the words of Serbian President Aleksandr Vucic on March 17th. A statement that encapsulates the Serb/Kosovo scene, where the pendulum swings from European “optimism” to the realities on the ground. Prior to that, the talks were about a “historic visit”, a “historic agreement” and a “historic meeting”, according to the European Union to describe the normalisation talks between Serbia and Kosovo.

There are almost 17 signed agreements between Belgrade and Pristina, most of which are mere ink on paper, and dozens of bilateral meetings that culminated in the intensification of the “dialogue”, which nevertheless failed to tame national and ethnic sentiments. Quite the contrary, it seems both parties are fanning the flames of identitarian politics in order to score points at the negotiation table. Today, the negotiations reached the “final stage”, according to Kosovo President Hashim Taji, who last February, marking the 10th anniversary of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, said that 2018 will be the year of a “historic agreement”.

The EU Commissioner for Foreign Relations Federica Mogherini also predicted back in February that 2019 will spell a “happy ending”, expressing “optimism” unheard of by Belgrade, whose foreign minister, Ivica Dacic, said in that same month that the “Recognition of Kosovo’s independence is still far from a done deal” boasting of his country’s success in blocking Pristina’s attempts to join international institutions. “Optimism” has not been translated on the ground and in the bilateral relations between the two countries at all levels (economic, cultural, sports, etc.).

Pristina accuses Europeans

For the first time since Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, the Serbian army was deployed last week across the border crossings with Kosovo, according to the largest e-newspaper in Kosovo, Gazette Express. This was accompanied by the coverage by the Serbian press of reports that record repeated attacks on Serbs in Kosovo, which have intensified in the past few weeks.

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Apart from the Western media, which is busy promoting a predictable “European achievement” between Kosovo and Serbia that would “put an end to Russia’s influence in that region”, this dangerous development is not surprising. Last month, BIRN revealed – in an e-mail sent by Kosovo’s chief negotiator to the normalisation process, Avni Arifi, to the European foreign ministry, which was in response to an invitation to attend two meetings on 7 and 8 June in Brussels – that Pristina would “not participate in any normalisation talks with Serbia unless six agreements between both parties be implemented”.

For its part, Serbia refuses to address any file before Pristina meets its promises, especially those related to the establishment of the Association of Serbian Communities in Kosovo. “Kosovo did not live up to the agreement it signed. They claim that the association is contrary to their constitution, and therefore the two parties should discuss other files instead,” said Serbian writer and director Boris Malagorski in an interview with Al-Akhbar paper, adding that Kosovo can not re-negotiate that particular agreement as she has already agreed to its implementation. The association is one of the main items in the normalisation negotiations and aims to represent the interests of the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

In Arifi’s letter he accuses the EU of “working on behalf of the Serbs”, adding that “in the past few months, we have repeatedly asked you to facilitate the implementation of six agreements, but you have ignored our persistent demands … especially especially those regarding energy, which would only require no more than 2 hours to resolve”. He also criticized the “silence” of the European Union about “the way in which Serbia treated the Kosovo sports teams,” who are banned from participating in international competitions.

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Grand standing is the name of the game

During the first five months of this year the relations between Serbia and Kosovo deteriorated, which marked a heightened state of mistrust that threatened to bring back a hostile and perhaps even military cloud over this sad saga.

On 16th January, while representatives of Serbia and Kosovo were preparing to hold a meeting to relaunch the negotiations, Kosovo Serb minority leader Oliver Ivanovich was killed after being shot in front of his party office in the city of Mitrovica, which led to the cancellation of the talks a few hours before the scheduled date . The crime, which was described by Belgrade as an act of “terrorism”, led to a temporary suspension of negotiations, but they soon resumed after international mediation that called for “calm and reason”. On March 23rd, a meeting between the Kosovo President and his Serbian counterpart was held, a meeting that Mogherini attended.

On the same day, Belgrade canceled the women’s handball match, which would have been the first official sporting match between Serbia and Kosovo since the declaration of independence, for “security” reasons. Three days later, Kosovo prevented the Coordinator of the Serbian Government Office Marco Djuric from entering into northern Mitrovica to participate in a Serbian forum, given that he had no official approval, and deported him from the country. Mitrovica is a city in northern Kosovo divided between the Albanian majority in the south and the Serb majority in the north.

During a joint press conference with the Serbian president, Djuric said he was beaten in Kosovo, warning that “someone is trying to block negotiations and close all avenues leading to reconciliation”. “First of all, it is important to understand that Kosovo does not have an independent foreign policy … its foreign policy is determined by Washington” – Kosovo Prime Minister Ramos Haradinaj acknowledged that much in an interview with Serbian journalist Milomir Marek, adding that “Pristina’s refusal to participate (in the Brussels negotiations) tomorrow, is an American message to Serbia and the countries that support it” in reference to Russia specifically.

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Against the backdrop of these events, the future of bilateral relations between the two countries remains unclear. In the meantime, the campaign of mutual provocation did not stop. On 7th May, the Kosovo Football Federation refused to allow Serbia’s Red Star to play in a game in Bratislava. Two days later, Belgrade prevented the Kosovo Karate team from entering Serbia, which prevented them of participating in the European Karate Championship.

Boris Malagorsky sees that “Washington is pushing Belgrade to withdraw from negotiations in order to show Kosovo as the victim”. But others might say that Belgrade is holding back the negotiations because it has no interest in recognising the independence of Kosovo, even at the expense of joining the European Union.

Translator’s note: Bismarck was asked on his death bed where would the next European war start, he said, and I paraphrase: Something stupid will happen in the Balkans. We, as decent folk, must take note that there are sinister forces at play throughout human history and these people hardly ever get caught, thus if someone is pushing some clash of civilisation model of world order I plead that you read this essay.

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